With the EU agreeing a near freeze in overseas development aid, persuading citizens to back further national contributions will be a tricky but necessary task, says Irish Trade and Development Minister Joe Costello.
Joe Costello is Ireland's minister of state for trade and development and former vice chair of Amnesty International. Costello chaired a meeting between EU development ministers in Dublin on Tuesday (12 February). He spoke to EURACTIV's Marc Hall the day after the meeting.
Was the freeze in the EU budget for development a disappointment? Its budget is much smaller compared to the Commission's original proposal…
First of all it is isn’t a smaller budget. The budget will have grown by some 1.5% [compared to 2007-2013]. We would have liked to have seen a much greater increase. It was a small increase from previous budget so at least we haven’t gone backwards.
We know the way these things take place. The Commission is always likely to pitch it pretty robustly. And the Commission's proposals are never agreed to. There's always a lowering of them. But the Cypriot presidency came with a figure which was much less. Thankfully [European Council President] Van Rompuy was able to raise the figure.
Budget to budget, it’s a 4.8% increase. It’s in taking in inflation that we decrease it to 1.5%. We have to take in what’s the realistic figure, not necessarily what the Commission presented and certainly not what the Cypriots presented. I don’t want to undermine the Cypriot presidency but certainly they came in an awful lot lower than what was eventually agreed.
The entire Heading 4, about 94% of that is development funding but there are other sources that have been maintained. There is the non-budgetisation funding, that is outside the budget. They have been maintained. For example, there is a European Development Fund (EDF) which largely goes to Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and that’s retained around the same, around €26 billion. And then there’s an emergency fund which has increased as well [by 48%], but that’s a smaller amount – €1.96 billion.
We would be looking for the original 15 member states to recommit in going forward towards the targets [0.7% of gross national income allocated to overseas development].
We’re looking at the private sector to be part of the contribution towards eradicating world poverty, and non-EU countries, for example China.
What do you expect to achieve during the Irish presidency?
We have a very ambitious programme. All three commissioners [Kristalina Georgieva, Andris Piebalgs, and Janez Poto?nik] are going to work together to have a single roadmap going forward.
Part of task of the presidency is to progress that and get a Council conclusion by the end of the year and bring that forward to the first summit on the post-2015 goals.
During the meeting there were ambitious goals across the board to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. We have to ensure we have adequate funding to do it.
Following the budget deal, EU Development Commissioner Piebalgs has called on more national contributions from member states. Do you see this in the context of making up for a shortfall?
Not so much a shortfall, because there wasn’t a reduction in the funding. But now if we have an ambitious programme, then I think it’s extremely important that we have adequate funding for it. Europe contributes about 60% of the money that’s spent on the developing world. But if we don’t have enough, we have to look for other sources.
And of course member states, if we want to show leadership on this, we expect the wealthy member states to cough up, so that’s why he [Piebalgs] was emphasising the recommitment to the 0.7% target.
Will Ireland spend more despite the freeze of the EU development budget and even if other member states do not make more national contributions?
We have a commitment to reach the 0.7% by 2015. [Ireland's contribution currently stands at 0.5%]. I cannot say categorically we will do that but since we came into government we have stabilised it more or less the same over the past two years. We are of course in the middle of a bailout, so every penny that we spend on overseas development aid we have borrowed, so it’s a tough situation to be in. But we are committed to what we are doing with people who are much less well off.
We will be very anxious to look at the situation again if the economy is on an upward curve.
So much will depend on the health of the economy?
Well it’s very hard to seek increases in aid that we have to borrow and at the same time so many of our own people have to make sacrifices. It’s not easy to justify it in the way that we would like. But we have to get the balance right. We have to set an example in that respect. So many of the other countries that are in a bailout situation are not making the same percentage contribution that we are.
>> For more information on the meeting and Piebalgs' speech, read:
- Piebalgs urges EU countries to fill the gap on development aid
- EU aid ministers vow unity in global anti-poverty talks